Posts Tagged ‘Rwanda’
Forces loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara launched a heavy attack on Wednesday on the bunker where Laurent Gbagbo was defying efforts to force him to cede power, residents said.
“The fighting is terrible here, the explosions are so heavy my building is shaking,” Alfred Kouassi, who lives near Gbagbo’s residence in the commercial capital Abidjan, told Reuters.
“We can hear automatic gunfire and also the thud of heavy weapons. There’s shooting all over the place. Cars are speeding in all directions and so are the fighters,” he said.
[. . .]
A spokeswoman for Ouattara’s forces said Ouattara’s fighters were storming Gbagbo’s residence, where Gbagbo has been holed up since Ouattara’s forces swept into Abidjan backed by helicopter strikes by the United Nations and France.
“They are in the process of entering the residence to seize Gbagbo,” Affousy Bamba told Reuters. “They have not taken him yet, but they are in the process.”
Residents however said militias close to Gbagbo and his presidential guard were putting up a stiff resistance, even as most soldiers from the regular army had heeded a call to lay down their arms.
What led to this? Gbagbo’s obstinance.
Negotiations led by the United Nations and France aimed at securing the departure of Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo have failed, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Wednesday.
“The negotiations which were carried out for hours yesterday between the entourage of Laurent Gbagbo and Ivorian authorities have failed because of Gbagbo’s intransigence,” Juppe told parliament.
Considering that yesterday Ouattara allies were comparing Gbagbo to one of the Nazis, This probably means he’s probably going to be put on trial in Cote D’Ivoire. But it also is another reason for his supporters to resist the legitimacy of Ouattara.
10:05 EDT: The EU are adding new sanctions to Gbagbo’s government. Seems a little late, but whatever.
10:10 EDT: Both FM Juppe and a military spokesman in Abidjan say that the French are not involved in the assault on the Presidential Palace. Two UN helicopters are flying low overhead the area where the palace is, though.
—This is another reminder that Ouattara likely cannot solve the multitude of problems left in Gbagbo’s wake:
There are now real fears the violence in Ivory Coast could set off a fresh round of regional carnage. Mercenaries and militia who backed the regime of Laurent Gbabgo, the deposed president, have been fleeing across the largely unguarded border with Liberia -raising the prospect they will soon begin building bases there from which a fresh campaign can be mounted.
Former Liberian soldiers, thousands of whom were demobilized after the civil war ended there, are said to have received cash offers to bolster Gbabgo’s militias in southern Ivory Coast. Burkina Faso, where ethnic groups are closely linked to those in northern Ivory Coast, could also find itself sucked into the fighting.
And there’s more bad news.
For one, Ouattara’s triumphant forces haven’t been able to stamp out inter-ethnic clashes. Killings have been reported in the towns of Bangolo, Man and Danane by Medicines Sans Frontieres, the French NGO.
Human rights groups have already documented atrocities by both sides. In March, Gbabgo’s forces butchered at least 37 immigrant workers then Ouattara’s forces murdered nine unarmed supporters of Gbabgo. Last week, Ouattara called on his supporters to refrain from committing atrocities, but it is unclear if the president-elect, a U.S.-educated economist and banker with no real military authority, has the influence to stop the loosely organized forces backing him from settling local feuds.
These are serious, systemic problems that will take monumental resolve to even begin to solve.
10:20 EDT: Al Jazeera has a fantastic interview with journalist Ayo Johnson, who looks at this problem and also broader problems in Africa.
But why does this keep happening in Africa? All the stereotypes and generalisations aside, similar events have occurred in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire and Gabon within a few years of each other.
It is embarrassing and sad – but the reality is that African politics and democracy is at a crossroad. For some countries who I would like to describe as fragile states, fragile because a few have come through war, others have had coups, others have had repeated cycles of poor leadership and bad governance. And the conditions that lead to their fragility is ever so apparent. Hence many of such countries are in recovery mode and if not nurtured and supported could easily slip into their bad ways. This is a fact with Ivory Coast. Currently there are only a handful of African countries that meet the grade of governance – South Africa, Africa super power, Ghana, bright and sparkling and Nigeria aspiring to reach its potential and well on track.
These are a few countries that have met international acceptable standards of governance. Africa as a whole has a long way to go in terms of being responsible and accountable. But with time the African continent can change and be seen to change and the rest of the world will see its better and progressive side.
Q. How do these ”fragile countries” break out of these cycles?
There is also a responsibility from the population to be far more educated to understand that during an election do not vote purely on tribal lines. As is ever so apparent across Africa where most vote for the man or woman that belongs to their tribe and cultural affiliation rather that the person who has the best policies. There is a need for the populace to become more educated and to choose wisely with their vote and understand the ramification of the choices they make and how best to use their vote.
Finally the electoral process of choosing a president or a leader for a country should be organised and controlled by ECOWAS. They should work closely with the electoral commission and the decision should be final. This way Disputes will be minimal and there will not be a risk that the process ha been compromised or sabotaged by tribalism or cultural affiliation
In any democracy, the cure for almost any problem is the voters becoming more informed. That’s easier said than done, though. See: the United States.
10:30 EDT: Andrew Harding on the siege:
A negotiated ending might have helped ease tensions in this bitterly divided country. After all, Mr Gbagbo won 46% of the vote in the recent election.
But he seems to have over played a weak hand, and so a more forceful denouement beacons, and with it the real risk of greater instability.
What will his militias do if Mr Gbagbo is killed, or dragged out and humiliated?
Civilians, still trapped in Abidjan, say there has been sporadic gunfire across the city, with pro-Gbagbo militias still on the streets, and Ouattara force’s still “mopping up” opposition at several military installations.
This is definitely not the way this should end.
10:40 EDT: I have not mentioned it before, but Ouattara forces have been ordered not to kill Gbagbo. And I’ve seen a lot of calls for him to be tried, but very few, if any, that he should be killed. In this situation a lot of things are possible (and it just takes one soldier and one bullet), but I don’t think that’s the intent of Ouattara forces, by any stretch. They want him tried.
10:50 EDT: A must read piece in the Times by novelist Fatou Keita:
Some days earlier, looters had invaded our parking lot. We watched them from our windows, hidden behind our curtains, powerless. They were intent on stealing our cars: all the windows were broken, the interiors pillaged. “Give us the keys!” one shouted up to us. “If we have to go in there, you’ll be sorry!” They tried several times to drive off with my car, but as stubborn as its owner, it refused to start and they had to give up. Three other cars were taken, but thank heavens, the bandits didn’t try to force open the door to our building.
By the end of our meeting, we had decided that in case of an attack on our building, we would give the alarm by beating on our pots and pans. We also set hours for taking out the trash and going out to look for food when it was possible.
The days are long because, obviously, we are confined to our homes by the gunfire. When the shooting is heavy, I yell at everyone to lie flat in the hallway. My little granddaughter is terrified. Some of my neighbors have bullets in their walls.
The end is a reminder that, for people in Abidjan, this crisis is not over yet.
–A good map in French of the situation in Abidjan.
11:05 EDT: CAFOD, a Catholic aid agency in England, posted some pictures of the refugees. I’d recommend giving to Oxfam before any religious organization (less strings, better reputation) but this is definitely a “all hands on deck” sort of situation. And honestly, any visibility the refugees get along these lines is good visibility.
11:15 EDT: Max Fisher at the Atlantic writes the first comparison of Libya and Cote D’Ivoire that didn’t make me want to pull my hair out. Quite an accomplishment:
Today, the U.S. and France are leading two large-scale, primarily humanitarian interventions, both in Africa. While neither conflict — Côte d’Ivoire and Libya — has yet resolved, and while their immediate as well as long-term damage are not yet clear, in both cases the international intervention appears to have been of tremendous value for three reasons. The civilian death toll, though high in both countries, would likely have been far higher without the United Nations-approved action. Second, intervention looks like it may be able to drastically hasten what could have otherwise been far longer conflict. And perhaps most importantly, the interventions send an important message to the despots and would-be despots of the world that stealing an election or slaughtering one’s own people just became a great deal riskier.
It’s impossible to know what would have happened in Côte d’Ivoire without intervention. But the country looked set to at least return to the civil war of 2004, plunging the country that had become an African success story into yet another of the bloody, sectarian-tinged, insurgent-heavy wars that have plagued West Africa for decades. President Laurent Gbagbo, refusing to cede power after losing his election, would have faced little opposition as loyalist forces and mercenaries mowed down one peaceful protest after another. The corpses dumped along roadsides, in a grisly ritual meant to quietly purge the nation of 20 million of all political opposition, would have continued to mount. As Gbagbo nationalized natural resources and as fighting made the cities, once areas of manufacturing and a slowly growing middle class, inhospitable, this once-vibrant African economy would have headed for collapse.
Côte d’Ivoire’s economy will likely take years to recover. But the armed conflict, which looked ready to drag on for years and to create sectarian tension between the Muslim north and Christian south that could have lasted even longer, appears headed for an imminent and possibly decisive conclusion after only four months. Gbagbo, now holed up in a bunker for the third straight day, hasagreed to negotiate the terms of his surrender and departure. His generals are calling for a cease fire. A United Nations and French assault has crippled his forces and paved the way for fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the rightful winner of the presidential election. Months of U.S.- and French-imposed sanctions have devastated Gbagbo’s ability to pay his troops. U.S.-led diplomatic efforts have isolated him regionally and brought the African Union, normally deferential to dictators and loathe to intervene, to take one of its toughest and most unified stands in the body’s history. Now Gbagbo, rather than slowly burning his country down through years of war and dictatorship, appears, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “on the verge of being ousted.”
I would add this to the pile of things that are changing as the world becomes figuratively smaller. Africa used to be way over there, now it’s immediately accessible via real time media, social or otherwise. That’s not a cure all – there are still factors for intervention to take into account. But now we all (not just people on the ground cabling in) can more easily judge the risks of not intervening before it’s too late. And that’s meaningful.
11:20 EDT: What’s taking so long? Gbagbo supporters are firing heavy weapons:
Mamadou Toure, a Outtara supporter who has been on France 24 TV, says it’s taking so long to capture Gbagbo’s bunker because Gbagbo’s supporters have heavy weapons. Outtara’s forces reportedly have received orders to take the incumbent president alive.
—More warnings about a humanitarian crisis in Liberia:
Stephen O’Brien, a UK international development minister who has been at the Bahn camp in Liberia, on the border with Ivory Coast, has warned of an “immediate crisis” and has called on all the international community to help people affected by the violence
–Also, more on what the ICC is doing:
The said the prosecutor has been conducting a preliminary examination and the next step will be for the prosecutor to request authorisation to initiate an investigation but the process would be expedited if a country signed up to the Rome statute refers Ivory Coast to the prosecutor of the international criminal court.
All in all, it seems everything is at a stalemate until Gbagbo is captured.
11:25 EDT: Reports from Abidjan are that UN helicopters flying overhead are not firing on the Gbagbo compound, though Gbagbo allies are trying to spread propaganda that they are. The BBC reports that Gbagbo allies have even called this an assassination attempt, but that Ouattara forces know that things will likely only get worse if Gbagbo is in fact killed.
11:30 EDT: The Assistant Secretary for African Affairs spoke in Washington yesterday about Cote D’Ivoire, and echoed the positions of France and the United Nations, as well as other people within the American government, all the way up to Obama. i didn’t catch anything new regarding Cote D’Ivoire (though the information on Nigeria’s election was interesting).
11:35 EDT: More on the French history in Cote D’Ivoire. (French)
11:40 EDT: Irin provides details on the military supporters of Ouattara:
While military support from the UN and France may have proved pivotal in destroying Gbagbo’s last arsenals, the former rebels known as Forces Nouvelles (FN) made up most of the newly formed Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), which pushed south into the main city Abidjan after winning remarkably easy victories in the centre, east and south of the country in the past week.
Who are the military forces behind Ouattara and how will they proceed once their side takes power?
At a recent celebratory rally in the political capital Yamoussoukro, Ouattara’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro introduced the crowd to several FN senior commanders: Soumaila Bakayoko, Cherif Ousmane, Tuo Fozié and Touré Hervé, saluted as being among the architects of the FRCI’s victories. Ouattara supporters also talk of the key role played by Col Miche Gueu. These men are associated with the September 2002 rebellion, which nearly dislodged Gbagbo. The FN – a collective of three rebel factions – made offensives against Korhogo, Bouaké and Abidjan. Their secretary-general and main public voice was a then 30-year-old Soro, known primarily as a former student leader.
Ivoirian critics of Ouattara and Soro have not welcomed the sense of déjà vu. “This man is meant to be a prime minister, but he is forever talking about the need for a military offensive and moving on Abidjan,” a man in the Yopougon District said. Many observers noted the difference between Ouattara’s rhetoric and that of Soro in the weeks after the disputed November 2010 presidential election, with the prime minister much quicker to push for a military solution.
The FN included soldiers, particularly northerners, defecting from the national armed forces, but also combatants from outside Côte d’Ivoire and the `dozo’, traditional warrior hunters – said to have mystical powers – who have long acted as informal community police.
In 2006 one of the FN leaders, Martin Kouakou Fofié, was hit with UN sanctions over allegations of child recruitment, abductions, sexual abuse of women, arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings by troops he commanded.
Whatever compromises were made in numerous peace accords signed in the years since the rebellion, the FN have effectively retained control of national territory in the west, north and centre. A longstanding concern of Gbagbo supporters and neutrals has been the existence of a state within a state, whose sovereignty has gone largely unchallenged.
More problems for Ouattara to deal with. With each passing hour, this feels more and more like a Pyrrhic victory.
I’ve also referred to the FRCI constantly here, because that’s what they are now; it’s worth highlighting, though, that this is essentially a re-organized group of what came before: the New Forces, that had, as the excerpt shows, many problems of their own.
–Irin also has a piece on refugees:
Ivoirians who have fled to eastern and southeastern Liberia are choosing to settle in villages rather than camps and transit centres, making them harder to help, say NGO workers.
Most of the 130,000 Ivoirians who have fled into in Liberia since December 2010 are scattered across 90 villages in Nimba and Grand Geddeh counties, according to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Suleiman Momodu.
Ivoirians feel safest staying with host communities just across the border from their homes, as they may have relatives in these villages or share the same ethnic background, said Anika Krstic, spokesperson with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Liberia’s capital Monrovia.
As a result, a refugee camp in Bahn in Nimba County, 50km from the border, is sheltering some 2,500 refugees, despite being built to house up to 15,000.
Many Ivoirians return to their villages by day to keep up their livelihoods, re-crossing into Liberia at night, said Krstic. “With population movements continually shifting, it’s hard to figure out who has already been registered and who is being registered for the first time,” she added.
Poor roads impede access to many host villages said DRC, which is helping provide water and sanitation in transit centres, where refugees are temporarily housed before finding longer-term shelter.
Not only are there a significant amount of refugees, they’re not even going to be easy to get help to. This sounds like it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
11:55 EDT: Elizabeth Dickson of Foreign Policy tweets that UN investigators found a third possible massacre site in Cote D’Ivoire.
The man overseeing the UN team investigating mass killings in the Ivory Coast has confirmed to Channel 4 News that in addition to two mass graves which were found in Duekoue in March, reports based on “reliable information” have led the team to investigate a third site in Bloleuquin. The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic spoke to Channel 4 News from Abidjan. He had just returned from Duekoue whilst on a week long mission to oversee the investigation into reports of mass killings.
He said “in the second half of March 100 people were killed in Duekoue, and on the 28th March 230 people were killed.”
Whilst Ivan Simonovic did not specifically use the phrase “ethnic cleansing” he told Channel 4 News “here are the hard facts: in the first incident the 100 victims were of a single ethnicity, from the Dioula ethnicity who traditionally support Ouattara, they were found after pro-Gbagbo forces were in control”
“And in the second incident 230 people from the Guerra ethnicity, traditionally supporters of Gbagbo, were killed at the time when Ouattara’s forces were in control.”
–France24 is reporting that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the ICC, is officially opening an investigation into “systematic or widespread massacres committed in Côte d’Ivoire.”
12:25 EDT: Kofi Annan, still alive and giving public statements, says that Gbagbo should leave.
12:45 EDT: According to the liveblog of Jeune Afrique, via France24, Gbagbo refused an offer of “legal immunity, a collection of his assets, freedom of movement, and 2 million per year” from African heads of state. Does he think a better offer is coming?
–Ah, the catch, What France 24 didn’t highlight is that this offer was made on March 10, nearly a month ago. That makes the offer much more reasonable. Making that offer now would be idiotic.
12:55 EDT: A military source told Jeune Afrique that the bunker where Gbagbo is has 4-5 layers with men to defend him and enough food to last a year. Wonderful. Exactly what the country needs right now.
–Via AFP, Jeune Afrique reports that Angola still considers Gbagbo the president-elect. Amazing.
1:00 EDT: South Africa, Togo, Angola, and possibly Ethiopia are possible locations for exile for Gbagbo:
South Africa, Togo and Angola are possible safe havens for Ivory Coast’s besieged Laurent Gbagbo should he negotiate an exit from his West African country, African Union (AU) sources said on Wednesday. “South Africa has offered several times before and Togo is now indicating to us that it could be willing to take him in,” a senior AU official told Reuters. “Togo is not a great option, though, as there will obviously be fears that he could cause problems and spoil peace from there — it’s so close to Ivory Coast. I’m betting strongly on South Africa,” said the official, who declined to be named.
[. . .]
Another diplomat at the AU in Addis Ababa said Angola was a strong possibility. “Angola has always been pro-Gbagbo,” one Western diplomat told Reuters. “I think there’s a good likelihood of Angola taking him in if there’s a settlement. You only have to look at their history.” The United Nations said in March it was investigating suspected arms transfers to Ivory Coast in breach of an embargo, including a cargo delivery from Angola. There were also regular reports in 2002 that Angola supplied arms including armoured vehicles to Ivory Coast when rebels tried to oust Gbagbo from the presidency. Angola has denied that mercenaries from the country have fought for Gbagbo.
Diplomats at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia said Uganda was an outside bet to shelter the Ivorian strongman. Long-serving President Yoweri Museveni earlier this year attacked the United Nations for recognising Ouattara as the election winner.
That’s assuming he cuts a deal to give himself exile.
1:15 EDT: The BBC reports that today’s assault on Gbagbo’s residence may have repelled because Ouattara forces could not break through thr heavy weapons on the residence.
1:20 EDT: This Al Jazeera video captures the perspective of Ivorians caught in the crossfire:
1:30 EDT: Gbagbo is rejecting advice of allies to give up and apparently hopes to remain as President.
–A report to France24 indicates that Gbagbo is still broadcasting defiantly on state television. A very rough translation:
“URGENT: President Gbagbo IS NOT IN A BUNKER PALACE AND ITS NOT SENT OR ITS GENERAL ALCIDE DJEDJE ASK ANY PRESENTING AS STATED IN PARIS by François Fillon • URGENT: THE GENERAL AND MANGOU Ksarat NEVER negotiated the surrender of President Gbagbo FROM THE EMBASSY OF France ABIDJAN AS ANNOUNCED ON BFM TV and ITEL by François Fillon • URGENT: THE PRO-OUATTARA were defeated by the pro-Gbagbo NEAR THE PRESIDENTIAL RESIDENCE. • URGENT: President Gbagbo STATED IN PERSON, TUESDAY NIGHT ON LCI, IT REMAINS WELL TO HIS POST AS PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC BECAUSE HE WON THE ELECTION “
–Meanwhile, SOSs are being broadcast here, including one about a two year old child who has not eaten for three days.
–Reuters has also reported that the Ouattara attack on Gbagbo’s residence has been repelled today.
1:45 EDT: The Telegraph has chilling pictures of the assault on Gbagbo’s bunker.
–AFP is also reporting that Ouattara forces have retreated from Gbagbo’s bunker.
–A representative from UNICEF told the BBC that they had to turn back because people were being killed right in front of them.
2:15 EDT: The EU is committed to helping Cote D’Ivoire rebuild. (French link)
The European Union today expressed its readiness to help rebuild the economy and institutions when the Ivorian conflict between the president recognized by the international community and its rival has been set.
“We are ready to consider a range of measures to provide institutional and financial package” for the country, once the political situation stabilizes, “said Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs Hungarian, Zsolt Nemeth, whose country holds the six-month presidency of the EU. He was speaking before the European Parliament on behalf of the Head of European diplomacy Catherine Ashton, who could not make the trip.
The minister did not elaborate on the proposed European aid. But the needs in Côte d’Ivoire are very important. The country’s economy, which relies heavily on exports of cocoa, has been in crisis since the beginning of the crisis created after the presidential election in November between the outgoing Head of State Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, recognized President of the international community.
Once Congress tops playing around with budget issues, they should make the same commitment.
–An interesting interview with an African expert from the Institute for International and Strategic Relations:
euronews: Can Alassane Ouattara legitimately be a reconciliation president, considering that his troops are already accused of mass killings during their advance on Abidjan?
Hugon: That’s certain, but to earn that stature it’s imperative that there be an effort of remembrance, the equivalent of a truth and reconciliation commission, and that crimes that may have been committed by one side or another be spoken of.
euronews: Paris is involved in three wars, in Afghanistan, Libya and Ivory Coast. Why this commitment at the end of Nicolas Sarkozy’s term as president? For electoral reasons?
Hugon: It is true that a warrior stance, military commander in chief can have a positive effect on public opinion. I don’t believe that is the main motivation. I believe that Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to partly disengage from Africa, to normalise France-Africa relations — France-Afrique some people have called it — and finds himself facing the classical dilemma: must there be indifference or interference? History will decide whether he was right or wrong.
3:00 EDT: I’m not sure this has been widely reported yet, but in yesterday’s State Department briefing, it was announced that the US Ambassador to Cote D’Ivoire, Phillip Carter, has been in touch with both Ouattara and Gbagbo, even now.
The State Department has posted the full remarks of Asst. Sec. Carson, mentioned earlier:
3:05 EDT: Stunning photos of the conflict in Cote D’Ivoire over the past month. The pciture of the women protesting soldiers stands out to me.
3:15 EDT: France24 reports that Gbagbo’s soldiers returned fire, injuring one Ouattara soldier today.After a break, Ouattara foreces anticipate launching another offensive on the stronghold.
4:15 EDT: AFP reports that the Japanese embassy was attacked by mercenaries. As if things weren’t bad enough.
–American diplomats are also requesting to leave Abidjan.
–The attack on the Japanese embassy was worse than that initial report let on:
The residence of the Ambassador of Japan to Abidjan was attacked Wednesday by “mercenaries”, who then fired rockets and cannon fire from the building, said the diplomat told AFP, indicating that four members of its local staff had “disappeared “. “There are four people, security officials and the gardener, who disappeared. There are a lot of blood in the house, cartridges everywhere. I do not know if the four are alive, ” said Yoshifumi Okamura. “They were probably mercenaries, they entered my home in the morning by pulling (with rocket launchers) RPG. With a dozen people we’ve locked in my room, whose door is reinforced, ” said he said. His residence is located in the Cocody district (north), in a wide perimeter around that of outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, defended by his last against fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara, head of state recognized by the international community. “From 9:00 to 2:00 p.m. (GMT), they fired machine guns, guns, RPGs from my residence. I do not know where they’re fired because we were locked up. It’s terrible, ” the diplomat continued. “They looted, stole everything of value in the house. Around 14:00, they are gone, ” said Yoshifumi. But “they are in front of me. I’m afraid they will come back, ” he said. (AFP)
–There’s now a report of a sniper on top of that residence.
4:30 EDT: The French language site Jeune Afrique lists Gbagbo’s remaining allies.
6:30 EDT: There is speculation that the presence of heavy weapons outside of Gbagbo’s residence may lead to the UN intervening again. But the bigger question, as posed by Senam Beheton, is who exactly is in charge of Abidjan and the country now? Can anyone guarantee security? As long as ambassador residences are attacked, it’s unclear if anyone is in charge.
Every other liveblog is closed. So I’ll follow suit, but be monitoring anything. If anything looks breaking, I’ll throw up a new thread. Thanks for following today.
“There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively. I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” – Susan Rice, current U.S. Ambassador to the UN and advocate for action in Libya.
Samantha Power, now a key advisor to Barack Obama,was a strong advocate for the military action in Libya. In September 2001, she wrote a long article for the Atlantic regarding the inaction of the Clinton Administration in Rwanda. Certain parts are revealing in regards to potential Obama thinking now.
She identifies three key problems with the Clinton administration approach. The first is a threaten to disengage peacekeepers – which in the end only helped the Tutsi who wanted them gone. This isn’t worth spending too much time on – everyone knows now disengaging in Libya would would help Gaddafi. A key difference between Libya and Rwanda is that everyone knows who the aggressor is in Libya (even if the ultimate composition of the rebels is not as well known).
The second concern has a tangential connection, but not more. Power:
Second, before and during the massacres U.S. diplomacy revealed its natural bias toward states and toward negotiations. Because most official contact occurs between representatives of states, U.S. officials were predisposed to trust the assurances of Rwandan officials, several of whom were plotting genocide behind the scenes. Those in the U.S. government who knew Rwanda best viewed the escalating violence with a diplomatic prejudice that left them both institutionally oriented toward the Rwandan government and reluctant to do anything to disrupt the peace process.
If anything, there’s an institutional bias towards not trusting Gaddafi here – he’s earned that reputation through decades of his actions. The international community never really pushed for negotiations blindly. And if anything, the extent of social media has made such institutional bias harder to have. We now know almost immediately when cities or citizens are under attack. This doesn’t really explain or justify the actions of the U.S. here, but it is an interesting footnote, I think.
The third criticism by Power is more directly relevant:
The third problematic feature of U.S. diplomacy before and during the genocide was a tendency toward blindness bred by familiarity: the few people in Washington who were paying attention to Rwanda before Habyarimana’s plane was shot down were those who had been tracking Rwanda for some time and had thus come to expect a certain level of ethnic violence from the region. And because the U.S. government had done little when some 40,000 people had been killed in Hutu-Tutsi violence in Burundi in October of 1993, these officials also knew that Washington was prepared to tolerate substantial bloodshed. When the massacres began in April, some U.S. regional specialists initially suspected that Rwanda was undergoing “another flare-up” that would involve another “acceptable” (if tragic) round of ethnic murder.
Isn’t this exactly what is going on in the Middle East? That we’ve seen from Afghanistan to Algeria people revolting and facing violence or death for doing so.
Now, maybe there’s still no way this can end well or the military mission is muddled, but that doesn’t mean a dictator threatening to go all Sodom and Gomorrah on the opposition should be ignored.
More accurately, isn’t a lot of the opposition to action specifically driven by fear of Libya becoming another Afghanistan or Iraq? That’s as much as a form of entrenched tunnel vision as ignorance to the possibility of genocide was then. There’s a reason the slippery slope is such a prominent argument now: protecting citizens is by definition endless, so the assumption is it has to escalate. The way to guard against that is simple: do not escalate. There’s powerful incentives for everyone in the administration to resist at this level of involvement (indeed, the only way I see American boots on the ground is if Obama loses in 2012 or if peacekeepers are needed).
Power also tells a story of how American interests were calculated at the time. Sound familiar?
Warren Christopher appeared on the NBC news program Meet the Press the morning the evacuation was completed. “In the great tradition, the ambassador was in the last car,” Christopher said proudly. “So that evacuation has gone very well.” Christopher stressed that although U.S. Marines had been dispatched to Burundi, there were no plans to send them into Rwanda to restore order: they were in the region as a safety net, in case they were needed to assist in the evacuation. “It’s always a sad moment when the Americans have to leave,” he said, “but it was the prudent thing to do.” The Republican Senate minority leader, Bob Dole, a spirited defender of Bosnia’s besieged Muslims at the time, agreed. “I don’t think we have any national interest there,” Dole said on April 10. “The Americans are out, and as far as I’m concerned, in Rwanda, that ought to be the end of it.”
Worse, is there were readily available forces to stop the killing:
If the soldiers ferried in for the evacuation had teamed up with UNAMIR, Dallaire would have had a sizable deterrent force. At that point he commanded 440 Belgians, 942 Bangladeshis, 843 Ghanaians, 60 Tunisians, and 255 others from twenty countries. He could also call on a reserve of 800 Belgians in Nairobi. If the major powers had reconfigured the thousand-man European evacuation force and the U.S. Marines on standby in Burundi—who numbered 300—and contributed them to his mission, he would finally have had the numbers on his side. “Mass slaughter was happening, and suddenly there in Kigali we had the forces we needed to contain it, and maybe even to stop it,” he recalls. “Yet they picked up their people and turned and walked away.”
There was also an institutional reluctance to avoid legal findings that would commit the US to do something (as well as an odd anecdote about Susan Rice:
Even after the reality of genocide in Rwanda had become irrefutable, when bodies were shown choking the Kagera River on the nightly news, the brute fact of the slaughter failed to influence U.S. policy except in a negative way. American officials, for a variety of reasons, shunned the use of what became known as “the g-word.” They felt that using it would have obliged the United States to act, under the terms of the 1948 Genocide Convention. They also believed, understandably, that it would harm U.S. credibility to name the crime and then do nothing to stop it. A discussion paper on Rwanda, prepared by an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and dated May 1, testifies to the nature of official thinking. Regarding issues that might be brought up at the next interagency working group, it stated,
1. Genocide Investigation: Language that calls for an international investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the genocide convention. Be Careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday—Genocide finding could commit [the U.S. government] to actually “do something.” [Emphasis added.] At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that,” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”
We’re seeing the same reluctance to act today, only it’s outside of the administration and occasionally for valid reasons.
What’s truly odd is that such reluctance is coming from someone like Andrew Sullivan, who 1) obsessively chronicles everything in the region and 2) is rightfully upset the Obama refuses an investigation into torture practices under George W. Bush. Illegality under international and humanitarian law is serious, and Obama should investigate it and be prepared to take action whenever possible. He should have done a lot more on torture. But he should also be prepared to do as much on international humanitarian situations as well.
Also worth noting: Power cites Donald Steinberg as the primary advocate for intervention in Rwanda. Steinberg is now the Deputy Director of USAID.
There was apparently more concern about the gorillas than the people within the government:
During the entire three months of the genocide Clinton never assembled his top policy advisers to discuss the killings. Anthony Lake likewise never gathered the “principals”—the Cabinet-level members of the foreign-policy team. Rwanda was never thought to warrant its own top-level meeting. When the subject came up, it did so along with, and subordinate to, discussions of Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Whereas these crises involved U.S. personnel and stirred some public interest, Rwanda generated no sense of urgency and could safely be avoided by Clinton at no political cost. The editorial boards of the major American newspapers discouraged U.S. intervention during the genocide. They, like the Administration, lamented the killings but believed, in the words of an April 17 Washington Post editorial, “The United States has no recognizable national interest in taking a role, certainly not a leading role.” Capitol Hill was quiet. Some in Congress were glad to be free of the expense of another flawed UN mission. Others, including a few members of the Africa subcommittees and the Congressional Black Caucus, eventually appealed tamely for the United States to play a role in ending the violence—but again, they did not dare urge U.S. involvement on the ground, and they did not kick up a public fuss. Members of Congress weren’t hearing from their constituents. Pat Schroeder, of Colorado, said on April 30, “There are some groups terribly concerned about the gorillas … But—it sounds terrible—people just don’t know what can be done about the people.” Randall Robinson, of the nongovernmental organization TransAfrica, was preoccupied, staging a hunger strike to protest the U.S. repatriation of Haitian refugees. Human Rights Watch supplied exemplary intelligence and established important one-on-one contacts in the Administration, but the organization lacks a grassroots base from which to mobilize a broader segment of American society.
Powers is most amazed that no one ever considered any intervention because of Somalia:
One senior U.S. official remembers, “When the reports of the deaths of the ten Belgians came in, it was clear that it was Somalia redux, and the sense was that there would be an expectation everywhere that the U.S. would get involved. We thought leaving the peacekeepers in Rwanda and having them confront the violence would take us where we’d been before. It was a foregone conclusion that the United States wouldn’t intervene and that the concept of UN peacekeeping could not be sacrificed again.”
A foregone conclusion. What is most remarkable about the American response to the Rwandan genocide is not so much the absence of U.S. military action as that during the entire genocide the possibility of U.S. military intervention was never even debated. Indeed, the United States resisted intervention of any kind.
Power continues, making the argument that even a limited UN presence can have a significant deterrent effect:
But Clarke underestimated the deterrent effect that Dallaire’s very few peacekeepers were having. Although some soldiers hunkered down, terrified, others scoured Kigali, rescuing Tutsi, and later established defensive positions in the city, opening their doors to the fortunate Tutsi who made it through roadblocks to reach them. One Senegalese captain saved a hundred or so lives single-handedly. Some 25,000 Rwandans eventually assembled at positions manned by UNAMIR personnel. The Hutu were generally reluctant to massacre large groups of Tutsi if foreigners (armed or unarmed) were present. It did not take many UN soldiers to dissuade the Hutu from attacking. At the Hotel des Mille Collines ten peacekeepers and four UN military observers helped to protect the several hundred civilians sheltered there for the duration of the crisis. About 10,000 Rwandans gathered at the Amohoro Stadium under light UN cover. Brent Beardsley, Dallaire’s executive assistant, remembers, “If there was any determined resistance at close quarters, the government guys tended to back off.” Kevin Aiston, the Rwanda desk officer at the State Department, was keeping track of Rwandan civilians under UN protection. When Prudence Bushnell told him of the U.S. decision to demand a UNAMIR withdrawal, he turned pale. “We can’t,” he said. Bushnell replied, “The train has already left the station.”
Power was also outraged by attempts of the US and UN to look like it cared while it really left people to die:
After the UN vote Clarke sent a memorandum to Lake reporting that language about “the safety and security of Rwandans under UN protection had been inserted by US/UN at the end of the day to prevent an otherwise unanimous UNSC from walking away from the at-risk Rwandans under UN protection as the peacekeepers drew down to 270.” In other words, the memorandum suggested that the United States was leading efforts to ensure that the Rwandans under UN protection were not abandoned. The opposite was true.
Power highlights how little America even said regarding Rwanda:
Throughout this period the Clinton Administration was largely silent. The closest it came to a public denunciation of the Rwandan government occurred after personal lobbying by Human Rights Watch, when Anthony Lake issued a statement calling on Rwandan military leaders by name to “do everything in their power to end the violence immediately.” When I spoke with Lake six years later, and informed him that human-rights groups and U.S. officials point to this statement as the sum total of official public attempts to shame the Rwandan government in this period, he seemed stunned. “You’re kidding,” he said. “That’s truly pathetic.”
The Department of Defense was strongly against any type of intervention, finding any reason to even stop radio broadcasts imploring genocide. Read the page here.
But Power doesn’t blame the Pentagon for that, she blames the White House:
However significant and obstructionist the role of the Pentagon in April and May, Defense Department officials were stepping into a vacuum. As one U.S. official put it, “Look, nobody senior was paying any attention to this mess. And in the absence of any political leadership from the top, when you have one group that feels pretty strongly about what shouldn’t be done, it is extremely likely they are going to end up shaping U.S. policy.” Lieutenant General Wesley Clark looked to the White House for leadership. “The Pentagon is always going to be the last to want to intervene,” he says. “It is up to the civilians to tell us they want to do something and we’ll figure out how to do it.”
But with no powerful personalities or high-ranking officials arguing forcefully for meaningful action, mid-level Pentagon officials held sway, vetoing or stalling on hesitant proposals put forward by mid-level State Department or NSC officials. If Pentagon objections were to be overcome, the President, Secretary Christopher, Secretary Perry, or Anthony Lake would have to step forward to “own” the problem, which did not happen.
That’s exactly what did happen regarding Libya – Clinton, Rice, and Power herself stepped forward and owned the problem. Obama backed them, and the Pentagon is finding a way to achieve the goals set forth in the UN Resolution.
Power mentions the peacekeeping strategy of Richard Clarke, who opposed meaningful intervention in Libya. Does this sound familiar?
America’s new peacekeeping doctrine, of which Clarke was the primary architect, was unveiled on May 3, and U.S. officials applied its criteria zealously. PDD-25 did not merely circumscribe U.S. participation in UN missions; it also limited U.S. support for other states that hoped to carry out UN missions. Before such missions could garner U.S. approval, policymakers had to answer certain questions: Were U.S. interests at stake? Was there a threat to world peace? A clear mission goal? Acceptable costs? Congressional, public, and allied support? A working cease-fire? A clear command-and-control arrangement? And, finally, what was the exit strategy?
Samantha Power on what could have been done:
A more serious challenge comes from the U.S. officials who argue that no amount of leadership from the White House would have overcome congressional opposition to sending U.S. troops to Africa. But even if that highly debatable point was true, the United States still had a variety of options. Instead of leaving it to mid-level officials to communicate with the Rwandan leadership behind the scenes, senior officials in the Administration could have taken control of the process. They could have publicly and frequently denounced the slaughter. They could have branded the crimes “genocide” at a far earlier stage. They could have called for the expulsion of the Rwandan delegation from the Security Council. On the telephone, at the UN, and on the Voice of America they could have threatened to prosecute those complicit in the genocide, naming names when possible. They could have deployed Pentagon assets to jam—even temporarily—the crucial, deadly radio broadcasts.
Instead of demanding a UN withdrawal, quibbling over costs, and coming forward (belatedly) with a plan better suited to caring for refugees than to stopping massacres, U.S. officials could have worked to make UNAMIR a force to contend with. They could have urged their Belgian allies to stay and protect Rwandan civilians. If the Belgians insisted on withdrawing, the White House could have done everything within its power to make sure that Dallaire was immediately reinforced. Senior officials could have spent U.S. political capital rallying troops from other nations and could have supplied strategic airlift and logistic support to a coalition that it had helped to create. In short, the United States could have led the world.
It’s worth noting that a lot of these things have been done in Libya already.
Power concludes with three direct criticisms of the Clinton Administration in the matter:
Strikingly, most officials involved in shaping U.S. policy were able to define the decision not to stop genocide as ethical and moral. The Administration employed several devices to keep down enthusiasm for action and to preserve the public’s sense—and, more important, its own—that U.S. policy choices were not merely politically astute but also morally acceptable. First, Administration officials exaggerated the extremity of the possible responses. Time and again U.S. leaders posed the choice as between staying out of Rwanda and “getting involved everywhere.” In addition, they often presented the choice as one between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. On May 25, at the Naval Academy graduation ceremony, Clinton described America’s relationship to ethnic trouble spots: “We cannot turn away from them, but our interests are not sufficiently at stake in so many of them to justify a commitment of our folks.”
We’re seeing this same response from critics, who either fear or, worse, want boots on the ground.
Second, the future of the UN is at stake. Maybe this might not work, but it’s better to try than allow the UN to become irrelevant:
Second, Administration policymakers appealed to notions of the greater good. They did not simply frame U.S. policy as one contrived in order to advance the national interest or avoid U.S. casualties. Rather, they often argued against intervention from the standpoint of people committed to protecting human life. Owing to recent failures in UN peacekeeping, many humanitarian interventionists in the U.S. government were concerned about the future of America’s relationship with the United Nations generally and peacekeeping specifically. They believed that the UN and humanitarianism could not afford another Somalia. Many internalized the belief that the UN had more to lose by sending reinforcements and failing than by allowing the killings to proceed. Their chief priority, after the evacuation of the Americans, was looking after UN peacekeepers, and they justified the withdrawal of the peacekeepers on the grounds that it would ensure a future for humanitarian intervention. In other words, Dallaire’s peacekeeping mission in Rwanda had to be destroyed so that peacekeeping might be saved for use elsewhere.
Lastly, Power argues that engagement was considered a substitute for meaningful action
A third feature of the response that helped to console U.S. officials at the time was the sheer flurry of Rwanda-related activity. U.S. officials with a special concern for Rwanda took their solace from mini-victories—working on behalf of specific individuals or groups (Monique Mujawamariya; the Rwandans gathered at the hotel). Government officials involved in policy met constantly and remained “seized of the matter”; they neither appeared nor felt indifferent. Although little in the way of effective intervention emerged from mid-level meetings in Washington or New York, an abundance of memoranda and other documents did.
Lastly, Power gives a quote from Susan Rice that is certainly revealing:
Susan Rice, Clarke’s co-worker on peacekeeping at the NSC, also feels that she has a debt to repay. “There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively,” Rice says. “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” Rice was subsequently appointed NSC Africa director and, later, assistant secretary of state for African affairs; she visited Rwanda several times and helped to launch a small program geared to train selected African armies so that they might be available to respond to the continent’s next genocide. The American appetite for troop deployments in Africa had not improved.
BTW, in context that means Rice would go down in flames arguing for force, not that she would want any mission to go down in flames.
Given that Samantha Power was a key supporter and advisor to Obama during his campaign, I’d say Sullivan should have taken the time to read this article and her other work before supporting him. He might not be shocked at UN action now.
Granted, this was in the middle of campaign season, but it’s prescient:
Clinton has often said that not acting in Rwanda was one of his biggest regrets. It’s a decision, he said, for which he continues to try to make amends. Had he listened to his wife, Clinton said, things might have been different.
“I believe if I had moved we might have saved at least a third of those lives,” he said. “I think she clearly would have done that.”
He went on to explain how America, which did intervene in the former Yugoslavia, could only take on so much at once. But not acting in Rwanda, he suggested, was a mistake his wife wouldn’t make.
She’s Secretary of State now, but that’s exactly what did happen.